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Japan seems to have managed to clear the lowest conceivable hurdle during the latest round of peace treaty negotiations with Russia that ended Tuesday: convincing the other side to confirm its resolve to continue negotiations on the basis of past agreements.

The Japanese team believes Tuesday’s agreement between Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Russian President Vladimir Putin to observe the 1997 Krasnoyarsk agreement is the best that Tokyo could get from Moscow at this time.

“Amid low expectations for this round of peace treaty talks, we believe that confirming the Krasnoyarsk agreement by the two leaders is a major result,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said. “But if you insist that no progress has been made in the talks, that is true.”

The official said Tokyo considers this round of talks a sort of “launching pad” for Tokyo-Moscow negotiations and that Tokyo’s aim has been achieved.

But the prospect of a positive conclusion to the talks, which is targeted for yearend, has been deemed almost unfeasible due to the two sides’ failure to narrow their differences over a long-standing territorial dispute.

During the two days of negotiations, Russia remained firmly opposed to a Japanese proposal to first draw a demarcation line over the disputed territories, and instead tabled a counter proposal to conclude an interim peace treaty this year, effectively shelving the border issue.

At a joint news conference Tuesday, Putin indicated that the yearend target under the Krasnoyarsk agreement will be nearly impossible to meet. He also pointed out that the agreement merely calls for Tokyo and Moscow to make “utmost efforts” toward signing a peace treaty by 2000.

Considering this, the Russian president said, the 1997 pact has been already fulfilled since the two countries have made utmost efforts.

It is believed that Mori will visit Russia some time this autumn in a last-minute attempt at a breakthrough in the stalled territorial talks and advance peace treaty negotiations.

But Mori’s failure to break Putin’s hard stance on peace treaty talks this time may force Japan to drastically change its negotiation strategy with Russia, which has been aimed at drawing Moscow’s concession on territorial negotiations in exchange for economic benefits provided by Japan.

Yet, the ministry official focused on what seems to be a new development in negotiations. During Monday’s talks, Putin told Mori that Russia will abide by the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration, which mentions the return of Habomai and Shikotan — two of the four disputed islands — to Japan.

It was the first time that the Russian side clearly recognized the veracity of the 1956 agreement in territorial negotiations.

Although it remains to be seen why the Russian president touched on the joint declaration, the Japanese side hopes that this new twist will lead somewhere, the official said.

Hiranuma disappointed

International Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma voiced disappointment Tuesday at the lack of a breakthrough in the long-standing territorial row between Japan and Russia.

“I feel somewhat disappointed in the outcome of the latest round of talks” between Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hiranuma said at a news conference.

The two leaders completed two days of talks Tuesday aimed at resolving the territorial dispute and concluding a peace treaty by yearend.

Hiranuma said that Tokyo will expand economic cooperation with Moscow where necessary to further enhance bilateral relations.

He said that Japanese companies may participate in some joint projects on developing energy resources in the Russian Far East proposed by Russia if it is determined the projects would be profitable.

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